Wednesday, July 29, 2009

0 Marrow Theology: More from a Brakel

In Wilhelmus a Brakel's The Christian's Reasonable Service, the author makes several helpful comments regarding the existence of the covenant of works (as distinguished from the covenant of grace, or as some monocovenantalists would like to say "the covenant of God", wherein they do not distinguish between Adam's covenant situation and ours) in two chapters primarily dealing with the subject.

He first lays down this particular, wherein the existence of the covenant of works is made evident:
"If God gave Adam a law which is identical in content to the ten commandments; promised him eternal life (the same which Christ merited for the elect in the covenant of grace); appointed the tree of knowledge of good and evil for him as a means whereby he would be tested and the tree of life to be a sacrament of life to him; and Adam, having accepted both the promise and the condition, thus bound himself to God -- then a covenant of works between God and Adam existed. Since all of this is true, it thus follows that such a covenant existed." (p. 356, volume 1, The Christian's Reasonable Service)
These things a Brakel then demonstrates in the chapter which follows this introduction. He writes concerning the law given to Adam:
"First, '...these (the heathen), having not the law are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15)'. If men even after the fall have a law written in their hearts and are thus a law unto themselves, be it imperfectly and in obscurity, much more so would Adam in the state of rectitude have had a law. The reason for this conclusion is that the law of nature proceeds from the knowledge of God. Since Adam, after the fall, had a far superior and clearer knowledge of God than the heathen, he therefore also possessed the law in a far superior way." (p. 357, volume 1, The Christian's Reasonable Service)
The moral law, in summary form at least, was certainly in Adam's heart if it is in the heart of the native of deepest, darkest Africa. This was given to Adam in creation, as is apparent from the plain rendering of Scripture - and therefore was given, along with the specific covenantal test of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the question of whether Adam had eternal life promised to him that was in character different and higher than his earthly life in the garden. I have seen and heard this objected to by several different people whose sympathies lie with the Federal Vision (not that it is part of the standard FV teaching, though rejection of the covenant of works is) and have never understood it at all. Neither does a Brakel:
"The law of the ten commandments has the promise of eternal life appended to it, as can be observed in Matthew 19. A young man asked, 'What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?' Christ answered, 'If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.' (Matt. 19:16-17) This is also confirmed in the following texts: 'Ye shall therefore keep My statues, and My judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them.' (Lev. 18:5); 'The commandment, which was ordained to life" (Rom. 7:10); '...and in keeping of them there is great reward' (Psa. 19:11). Thus Adam had the promise of eternal life.
the same life which is granted upon the receiving of Christ by faith is promised upon perfect obedience to the law. Since eternal life is granted to the elect upon faith in Christ, this is likewise true for perfect obedience to the law. The apostle confirms that the same promise applies to both matters. 'For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart...thou shalt be saved" (Rom. 10:5-6,9) "...the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, the man that doeth them shall live in them" (Gal. 3:11-12). Here is one and the same promise: life, eternal life... The apostle demonstrates that there are two ways by which this goal can be reached, one being the law, and the other faith. From this it follows that Adam, having the law, had the promise of eternal life, which is now obtained by faith." (pp. 360-361, volume 1, The Christian's Reasonable Service)
Part of the difficulty monocovenantalists have with the covenant of works, I think, stems from one primary problem - their inability to accept the principle of perfect holiness and complete obedience as rightly being met with life eternal. They apply what is clearly observable now, post-fall, wherein we all sin and are sinful from conception, to the garden, where Adam was created very good - flawless, and in communion with God. Our human condition is thus thrust upon Adam, and therefore since we cannot merit any acceptance with God in our condition, therefore so it is with Adam, in their eyes - he was unable to be declared righteous based on his work of obedience. This is a highly flawed position.

Adam was accepted by God, and righteous - and had he obeyed, his righteousness would have been maintained, declared, and confirmed. He would rightly have passed into eternal life, into a state of non posse peccare - inability to sin - just as we will be after Christ returns and glorifies His church. To argue from the basis of our inability to be anything but unprofitable servants in the world POST fall, that Adam could therefore also be nothing but an unprofitable servant PRE fall, is a category error. Adam, PRE fall, was NOT tainted with original sin. We are. The reason we cannot be declared righteous based on our obedience is a condition we have that Adam did not prior to his fall.

Finally, a Brakel gives this helpful exhortation to study the covenant of works and be edified by it; a few choice pieces from that paragraph close my comments:
"Meditate frequently upon this covenant, in order that you may perceive to what a blessed state God had appointed the human race -- and thus also you as far as your original state was concerned. How perfect, fitting and even desirable are its conditions! How glorious are the promises, and how glorious it is to be in covenant with the all-glorious and infinitely good God! The dimensions of this are infinite. Then proceed to the breach of the covenant and the needless, reckless, and wanton nature of the same. What an abominable deed it was! From this perspective proceed to the righteousness of God and let the punishment and rejection of such covenant breakers meet with your approval. When considering the glory of this covenant, seek to amplify your actual and original sins. This beautiful covenant has now been broken, and an unconverted person who as yet has not been translated into the covenant of grace is still in the actual covenant of works. Therefore, as often as he sins, he breaks the covenant by renewal, remains subject to its curse, and increases it time and again. Therefore look away from the covenant of works. It has been broken and salvation is no longer obtainable by it. This exhortation is necessary since even God's children are often inclined to dwell upon their works and accordingly, are either encouraged or discouraged." (p. 367, volume 1, The Christian's Reasonable Service)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

0 Marrow Theology: a Brakel Weighs In on the Covenant of Works and Christ's Active Obedience Imputed to Believers

Once again, I'm turning to another source connected to this theme of the Covenant of Works before moving on into the discussion by Edward Fisher in The Marrow of Modern Divinity of the promise of God and the Covenant of Grace instituted in Genesis 3. This time, I've turned to Wilhelmus a Brakel's magnum opus, The Christian's Reasonable Service - in it, he spends 2 chapters (worthy of their own comments here) on the Covenant of Works... one choice quotation, though, that I want to leave with you:
"Acquaintance with this covenant is of the greatest importance, for whoever errs here or denies the existence of the covenant of works, will not understand the covenant of grace, and will readily err concerning the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. Such a person will very readily deny Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect. This is to be observed with several parties who, because they err concerning the covenant of grace, also deny the covenant of works. Conversely, whoever denies the covenant of works, must rightly be suspected to be in error concerning the covenant of grace as well." (p. 355, volume 1, The Christian's Reasonable Service)
a Brakel here hits the issue squarely - the covenant of works is absolutely necessary for a proper understanding of Christ's covenant headship and the covenant of grace. Wherever there is denial or obfuscation of the principle of Adam's covenantal obedience unto life while in the Garden and not yet fallen, there will be a misunderstanding of what Christ's atoning work brings believers. This is critical stuff, and a Brakel nailed it over 300 years ago. Today, among Federal Vision proponents and sympathizers, there is both a denial of the Covenant of Works, AND, generally, a denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Monocovenantalism begets misunderstandings of Imputation. They go hand in hand, and the errors of the Federal Vision highlight this fact. It's worth pausing the Marrow study further to look at what a Brakel says about the Covenant of Works... and therefore, I think I shall. Til next time,

Monday, July 27, 2009

0 Marrow Theology: Bavinck Weighs In on the Covenant of Works

In thinking through the first part of The Marrow of Modern Divinity , I went back to Bavinck, who in volume 2 of his masterful Reformed Dogmatics makes a helpful connection much more smoothly than I did in my previous post. That is, the connection between Christ's covenant headship and Adam's. Paul very clearly in Romans 5:12-21 points out the relationship between Adam and Christ as covenant heads of different groups of people - Adam, of all the human race, Christ of His elect people. What accrues to Christ's people is a result of His fulfillment of His covenant obligations. What accrues to Adam's people is the result of His failure to uphold his. We, as human beings, are fallen, and are conceived as those guilty, by our union with our natural covenant head, Adam, of breaking God's covenant (as Adam, they broke the covenant, Hosea 6:7; as in Adam, all die, 1 Cor. 15:22; as through one man's tresspass judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, Romans 5:18). If there was no covenant, then there is no just condemnation of all men because of Adam's sin (yet that is what Scripture clearly tells us - that we are condemned because of that one transgression).

To the monocovenantalists, I ask - what was that transgression for which we are condemned? It is surely the transgression of the terms of the covenant. If Adam broke the covenant that we are in, the covenant of grace, as monocovenantalists often argue, then how is it that we can be saved through the covenant of grace??

Anyway, I promised Bavinck's remarks - so here they are, in brief:
"As the obedience of one man, that is, Christ, and the grace granted to humanity in him, brought acquittal, righteousness, and life, so the one transgression and misdeed of the one man is the cause of condemnation, sin and death for humanity as a whole. The relation between us and Adam is like that between us and Christ. We in fact stand to Adam in the same relation. He is a type of Christ, our head, from whom guilt and death accrue to us because of his transgression. He is the cause of the death of us all; we all die in Adam (1 Cor. 15:22). Here, too, Adam's relation to God is a covenant relation, described now not so much in the direction of God as in the direction of those who are included in that covenant under Adam as head. " (p. 565, Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics)
One of the common corrolaries of monocovenantal thought is the idea that Adam already had the highest life one could have as a human being - that there was no further promise of greater things; that all he had to do was be "covenantally faithful" and he would remain eternally on Earth in the Garden with God.

It is immediately evident, though, that Adam did NOT have the "highest" that one could have as a creature, because he was created with the possibility of sinning and transgressing the covenant in which he was created. He could still die. Eternity in such a state is not a happy state of affairs at all - for there was always the possibility of a fall. We know, though, that in our eternal state, there will be no such possibility. No sin, ever, in our glorified persons. Hence the highest state possible is NOT that which Adam had in the Garden... As Bavinck wrote earlier in this same section,
"He was given the fruit of herbs and trees for food (Gen. 1:29), a paradise as his dwelling place (Gen. 2:8ff.), a woman as helper (Gen. 2:18ff), a command for guidance (Gen. 2:16-17), and a threat of punishment in case of transgression (Gen. 2:17). It is evident from this scenario that the first man, however highly placed, did not yet possess the highest humanity. There is a very great difference between the natural and the pneumatic, between the state of integrity and the state of glory." (p. 564, Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics )
Importantly, Bavinck makes another connection that is often missed by those who hold to "one covenant." That is, that the covenant of works in the Garden is NOT the invention of 16th and 17th century continental and British theologians:
"...everyone acknowledges that Adam did not yet possess the highest humanity, a truth implicit in the probationary command, the freedom of choice, the possibility of sin and death. Especially Augustine made a clear distinction between the ability not to sin (posse non peccare) and not to die (posse non mori), which Adam possessed, and the inability to sin (non posse peccare) and the inability to die (non posse mori), gifts that were to be bestowed along with the glorification of the first man in case of obedience and now granted to the elect out of grace. (City of God, XVI, 27) The relation in which Adam originally stood vis-a-vis God was even described by God as a covenant, a testament, a pact, and the translation of the words ke'adam by "like Adam" led many to a similar view. Materially, therefore, the doctrine of what was later called "the covenant of works" also already occurs in the church fathers. Included in Adam's situation, as it was construed by the Scholastics, Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians, lay all the elements that were later summed up especially by Reformed theologians in the doctrine of the covenant of works..." (pp. 566-567, Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics)
So the idea of the covenant of works is hardly novel to the early summations of covenant ideas among the continental and British reformed... while it is clear that Bullinger and Cocceius codified things most clearly (not to mention Calvin, Olevianus and Ursinus and others) it cannot be called an invention of the Reformation. It cannot also be limited to the Scottish and English delegates to the Westminster Assembly, as I've also heard claimed... but perhaps those comments are for a later date.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

2 Marrow Theology: The Error of Monocovenantalism

In my previous post in this series (here) a commenter objected to the nature of the relationship between God and Adam as covenantal - or at least as being properly described by a covenantal arrangement that differs from that in which we are engaged with God as believers.

I frankly cannot understand this in the least. It is clear from Scripture that we are conceived condemned. That is, people are conceived covenantally guilty before God, even having done nothing, because of Adam's sin. Adam is the head of all the human race, as Paul makes quite clear in Romans 5 - and the headship is a covenantal headship as is made plain in that passage. We aren't talking mere "organic biology", but covenantal headship. We ALL, the Word says, sinned in Adam. Period. We are held accountable for his sin, and it is every bit as much our OWN sin, as it would have been had we been in his place.

Now if Adam, pre-fall, was in relationship with God under the terms of the same covenant that we are... then what does his breaking of that covenant do? Paul makes clear that we are guilty before God of Adam's sin. If his sin was a failure of faith, as the commenter to the previous thread states, then we cannot be justified through faith. We cannot somehow supercede Adam's failure with our own success and sit just before God. We are conceived UNJUST - and therefore in need of a DIFFERENT covenantal arrangement.

The headship of Adam in covenant relationship with God implies, for his posterity, that in whatever the arrangement was, since he failed and broke that covenant, we, too, have broken that covenant. If there is to be a new covenant relationship such that people can be saved and brought into eternal relationship with God, then that new covenant CANNOT have BOTH the same promise and same conditions as the previous covenant. (else how is it new?) That covenant between God and Adam in the garden is done. Gone. Broken for all men who proceeded naturally from Adam, as he, their head failed to uphold its terms.

Monocovenantalism simply FAILS on the face of it. There is no way that Adam faced the same covenantal obligations in the garden, prior to his fall, that believers do today, post-fall. To argue this is to completely misread Genesis 3 and Romans 5 (among other places). To argue this is to destroy the covenant headship of Adam, and to twist the covenant headship of Christ into something unrecognizable.

What's coming next in The Marrow of Modern Divinity is the discussion of the promise of God. In that promise was revealed several important things: Thomas Boston, in the notes presented on page 45 of the version one can purchase here, writes:
"In this promise was revealed, 1. Man's restoration unto the favour of God, and his salvation; not to be effected by man himself, and his own works, but by another. For our first parents, standing condemned for breaking of the covenant of works, are not sent back to it, to essay the mending of the matter, which they had marred before; but a new covenant is purposed,—a Saviour promised as their only hope. 2. That this Saviour was to be incarnate, to become man, "the seed of the women." 3. That he behoved to suffer; his heel, namely his humanity, to be bruised to death. 4. That by his death he should make a full conquest over the devil, and destroy his works, who had now overcome and destroyed mankind; and so recover the captives out of his hand: "he shall bruise thy head, viz: while thou bruisest his heel." This encounter was on the cross: there Christ treading on the serpent, it bruised his heel, but he bruised its head. 5. That he should not be held by death, but Satan's power should be broken irrecoverably: the Saviour being only bruised in the heel, but the serpent in the head. 6. That the saving interest in him, and his salvation, is by faith alone, believing the promise with particular application to one's self, and so receiving him, forasmuch as these things are revealed by way of a simple promise." (p. 45, footnote, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
With the promise, we'll deal in the next post on the Marrow Theology.

Friday, July 17, 2009

3 New Edition of Christianity and Liberalism

This is somewhat old news, but I wanted to point folks to a new edition of J. Gresham Machen's fantastic little work entitled "Christianity and Liberalism". It's another example of a book written long ago that speaks so clearly to today's circumstances. Just one little snip from the book that struck me with its prescience when I first read it:

"The consciousness of sin was formerly the starting-point of all preaching; but today it is gone. Characteristic of the modern age, above all else, is a supreme confidence in human goodness; the religious literature of the day is redolent of that confidence. Get beneath the rough exterior of men, we are told, and we shall discover enough self-sacrifice to found upon it the hope of society; the world's evil, it is said, can be overcome with the world's good; no help is needed from outside the world.

What has produced this satisfaction with human goodness? What has become of the consciousness of sin? The consciousness of sin has certainly been lost. But what has removed it from the hearts of men?"
What about this quote sounds like 1922? What does NOT reverberate with echoes of today's confidence in humanity? If you've not read this work, pick up a copy - you'll be glad you did.

2 Calvin Continues: The Word of God is the Test of True Worship

In Calvin's Treatise, "The Necessity of Reforming the Church", taken from volume 1 of his Tracts and Letters, newly republished by Banner of Truth, he concludes his introductory remarks with a summary criticism that applied in his day to worship in the church, and equally well can be applied to our own. This guiding principle directs his entire treatise - and it is well put to us as a reminder of what must direct us as we think about worship.
"Having observed that the word of God is the test which discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded, or to what he approves, in order that they may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a licence of devising modes of worship, and afterwards obtruding them upon him as a substitute for obedience. If in what I say I seem to exaggerate, let an examination be made of all the acts by which the generality suppose that they worship God. I dare scarcely except a tenth part as not the random offspring of their own brain. What more would we? God rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience. When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness, how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colors; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom; but as God values obedience more than all sacrifices, it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God." (pp. 132-133)
As Calvin previously said, it is horribly difficult to convince people that God's Word must direct us in our worship... yet it cannot be clearer. Why should we accept that God directed His own worship in the Old Testament, but today has left us to have a free-for-all? What would ever lead anyone to such a conclusion? When Jesus said to the woman at the well that true worshippers must worship God in Spirit and in Truth, what ever, then, did He mean, if we are to assume that all things are fair game? Does worship in spirit and truth mean we can have clown masses, blessings of the dogs, liturgical dance and mime sermons? On a more sober note, does it mean that we poke fun at such ridiculous ideas as that, but still have the freedom to worship in whatever way we want, so long as it is reverent and offered with good intentions?

Calvin makes a point that we must take to heart: Worship is not "anything goes", nor is it "whatever is noble and reverent goes". God has told us how we are to worship Him in His Word - as Calvin says, it MUST be the test to distinguish between true and false worship. Are we prepared to honor God and seek His will in worship? Or will we simply follow our own noses and do whatever seems right? The Proverbs has something to say about this: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (Prov. 14:12)" Nadab and Abihu found out the hard way that offering what they thought was right was not. Is their story meant only to teach us about the "hardness" of God in Old Testament times? Or is the application deeper and farther reaching?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

6 Marrow Theology: The Depth and Extent of Adam's Sin

In the beginning of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, we find Nomista (the legalist) and Evangelista (the pastor) discussing the Covenant of Works. One of the plainest and most concise treatments of the Covenant of Works ensues, in which several of the objections some in the church today (particularly those in the Federal Vision camp) have against the notion of a covenant of works in the garden are dealt with. Among these are

1) Nowhere is the word 'covenant' used to describe the situation of Adam in the Garden and the obedience required of him.

To this objection, Evangelista replies:
"Evan. Though we read not the word 'covenant' betwixt God and man, yet have we there recorded what may amount to as much; for God provided and promised to Adam eternal happiness, and called for perfect obedience, which appears from God's threatening, Gen. ii.17; for if a man must die if he disobeyed, it implies strongly that God's covenant was with him for life if he obeyed. (p. 29, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Several of the above-mentioned disputers with the doctrine of the Covenant of Works argue that, in fact, Adam was subject to the requirement of faith, and not of works.... an objection with which I cannot agree or really understand. What is presented in Genesis is CLEARLY a covenant requiring perfect, flawless obedience.

2) that regardless of any covenant, man owed God perfect obedience anyway... so that there is no need to speak of any covenant. It's fair, I think, to say that ANYONE who has read the Bible at all and understands the creature-creator distinction realizes that yes, indeed, had there been no covenant at all in the Garden, Adam would have been bound to perfectly obey. The point is, though, as Evangelista makes it, that God did in fact append promising and threatening to Adam's obedience/disobedience - and this is key.
"Evan. Yea, indeed: perfect and perpetual obedience was due from man unto God, though God had made no promise to man; for when God created man at first, he put forth an excellency from himself into him; and therefore it was the bond and tie that lay upon man to return that again unto God; so that man being God's creature, by the law of creation he owed all obedience and subjection to God his Creator.

Nom. Why, then, was it needful that the Lord should make a covenant with him, by promising him life and threatening him with death?

Evan. For answer hereunto, in the first place, I pray you understand, that man was a reasonable creature; and so, out of judgment, discretion, and election, able to make choice of his way, and therefore it was meet there should be such a covenant made with him, that he might, according to God's appointment, serve him after a reasonable manner. Secondly, It was meet there should be such a covenant made with him, to show that he was not such a prince on earth, but that he had a sovereign Lord: therefore, God set a punishment upon the breach of his commandment; that man might know his inferiority, and that things betwixt him and God were not as betwixt equals. Thirdly, It was meet there should be such a covenant made with him, to show that he had nothing by personal, immediate, and underived right, but all by gift and gentleness: so that you see it was an equal covenant, which God, out of his prerogative-royal, made with mankind in Adam before his fall." (pp. 31-32, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Adam indeed owed perfect obedience to God as a creature of God... that is certainly agreed to by all. However, the covenant of works has many distinct reasons for being - among them are the points given above... almost pedagogical and certainly revelatory characteristics. God revealed particular things to us by means of the institution of the Covenant of Works, and, importantly, promised Adam eternity of life and happiness contingent upon his obedience under the terms of this covenant. What is often denied by those who dispute the existence of the Covenant of Works is that Adam's eternal state, had he obeyed in perpetuity, would ever have changed.

We have to remember that Adam was created posse peccare et posse non peccare - able to sin, able not to sin. He was freely able to choose sin or not. To be suspended in such a condition for eternity would NOT be the eternal and free bliss that was promised him, nor is it the eternal and free bliss that we are to enjoy upon glorification. That free and eternal state is characterized by the phrase non posse peccare - not able to sin. Confirmed in righteousness, in other words - never to be subject again to the possibility of sinning. That was not Adam's state in the Garden, ever... yet we know from the way the Bible describes the eternal state that it is God's design that His people eternally be free from sin. And so shall we be. This existence was promised upon Adam's "passing the test" as it were. Given the promise, upon obedience - given the threat, upon disobedience... there was something more in the Garden between God and Adam than the mere creature-Creator relationship.

Finally, I want to turn ahead a little bit because the treatment of Adam's breach of the covenant of works is interesting. Yes, he had but one commandment - but as the author argues, all the Law was wrapped up in that one commandment. Adam's breach was therefore of immense proportion - almost impossible to imagine its magnitude:
"Evan. Though at first glance it seems to be a small offence, yet, if we look more wistfully 5 upon the matter it will appear to be an exceeding great offence; for thereby intolerable injury was done unto God; as, first, His dominion and authority in his holy command was violated. Secondly, His justice, truth, and power, in his most righteous threatenings, were despised. Thirdly, His most pure and perfect image, wherein man was created in righteousness and true holiness, was utterly defaced. Fourthly, His glory, which, by an active service, the creature should have brought to him, was lost and despoiled. Nay, how could there be a greater sin committed than that, when Adam, at that one clap, broke all the ten commandments?" (p. 35, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
All? Yes, all. We are so ready to accept a brief, woodenly literalistic interpretation of the ten commandments such that only something designated as the literal telling of a falsehood is a breach of commandment #9 - and only a crafting of a carved idol to which one bows down and worships as a god in its own right is a breach of commandment #2. This hardly captures the meaning of the ten commandments, which encompass EVERY sin. There is not a single sin that can be committed that is not covered by the ten commandments... and as Evangelista argues, Adam's breach of the command in the garden not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a breach of the WHOLE law, in every part.
"Nom. Did he break all the ten commandments, say you? Sir, I beseech you show me wherein.

Evan. 1. He chose himself another God when he followed the devil.

2. He idolized and deified his own belly; as the apostle's phrase is, "He made his belly his God."

3. He took the name of God in vain, when he believed him not.

4. He kept not the rest and estate wherein God had set him.

5. He dishonoured his Father who was in heaven; and therefore his days were not prolonged in that land which the Lord his God had given him.

6. He massacred himself and all his posterity.

7. From Eve he was a virgin, but in eyes and mind he committed spiritual fornication.

8. He stole, like Achan, that which God had set aside not to be meddled with; and this his stealth is that which troubles all Israel,—the whole world.

9. He bare witness against God, when he believed the witness of the devil before him.

10. He coveted an evil covetousness, like Amnon, which cost him his life, (2 Sam 13), and all his progeny. Now, whosoever considers what a nest of evils here were committed at one blow, must needs, with Musculus, see our case to be such, that we are compelled every way to commend the justice of God, and to condemn the sin of our first parents, saying, concerning all mankind, as the prophet Hosea does concerning Israel, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself," (Hosea 3:9)." (pp. 35-36, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)

Every one. Adam failed at every point to uphold the perfection of obedience required of him. And we fell in him, with him, under him as our head. Thus the beginning of the "bad news".

The "bad news" is quite substantial - all of us, from the least to the greatest, rich or poor, sick or healthy, ALL are conceived in this state of utter failure, having already broken the Law of God, standing already guilty before we have done anything. The greatness of Adam's guilt and sin and effects thereof are exceeded only by the greatness and effects of Christ's righteousness and the substitutionary atonement whereby God's elect are covered with the full righteous robes of Christ - having the penalty of the Law satisfied on their behalf, and the rightoeusness of a perfect record of obedience, required of them through the covenant of works, also satisfied for them. Christ in our room - in our stead - and we in Him, accepted of the Father. How glorious is our God and gracious is He.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

2 Calvin and the Regulation of Worship

I picked up the seven volume edition of the Tracts and Letters of Calvin (which doesn't exhaust all his writings outside of the commentaries, sermons and the Institutes by any means, but is still a great set) earlier this year, and decided I'd start perusing them while on a trip to Ithaca this past week to work with colleagues on the experiment I'm part of. This seven volume collection is available directly from Banner of Truth for a steal of a price ($80, shipping included!) during this 500th anniversary year of Calvin's birth.

I began with one of the treatises in volume 1, entitled "The Necessity of Reforming the Church". Calvin writes this as a letter of exhortation to the Holy Roman Emporer Charles, as he puts it in the subtitle, "seriously to undertake the task of restoring the church." In it, Calvin lays out plainly the errors of the church of his day, and the reasons the reformers took up the cause of reform. In one of the first paragraphs, he very succinctly states the case:
"If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. When these are kept out of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain. (p. 126)"
Calvin's summary might take some aback, just a bit - "first", he says, "of the mode in which God is duly worshipped" and "secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained." Now I don't think, as some have maintained, that this ordering means that Calvin thought that the proper worship of God trumps the doctrine of salvation in terms of importance... as becomes apparent very quickly, Calvin sees the doctrine of salvation, and of God's person and attributes as tied up intimately with the regulation of worship, so much so that they cannot rightly be separated. It seems possible that the ordering of these topics in this treatise is rhetorical -taking the abuses and errors of the Romish church in order from the more public and external to the less overt and internal - though all the errors be egregious indeed.

Calvin offers a somewhat different way of illustrating the church's maintenance of truth in a later sentence:
"[R]ule in the church, the pastoral office, and all other matters of order, resemble the body, whereas the doctrine which regulates the due worship of God, and points out the ground on which the consciences of men must rest their hope of salvation, is the soul which animates the body, and, in short, makes it not to be a dead and useless carcase [sic]." (pp. 126-127)
Calvin next takes up one of the best brief statements of the Regulative principle of worship I think I've ever read. I'm going to include these paragraphs in full here because they point out, I think, the connections Calvin makes between worship and the doctrine of God - and help explain the prominence and priority Calvin gives to right worship in the reformation of the church. First, Calvin outlines what is meant by due worship of God:
"Let us now see what is meant by the due worship of God. Its chief foundation is to acknowledge him to be, as he is, the only source of all virtue, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, power, goodness, mercy, life, and salvation; in accordance with this, to ascribe and render to him the glory of all that is good, to seek all things in him alone, and in every want have recourse to him alone. Hence arises prayer, hence praise and thanksgiving ­ these being attestations to the glory which we attribute to him. This is that genuine sanctification of his name which he requires of us above all things. To this is united adoration, by which we manifest for him the reverence due to his greatness and excellency; and to this ceremonies are subservient, as helps or instruments, in order that, in the performance of divine worship, the body may be exercised at the same time with the soul. Next after these comes self-abasement, when, renouncing the world and the flesh, we are transformed in the renewing of our mind and living no longer to ourselves, submit to be ruled and actuated by him. By this self-abasement we are trained to obedience and devotedness to his will, so that his fear reigns in our hearts, and regulates all the actions of our lives.

That in these things consists the true and sincere worship which alone God approves, and in which alone he delights, is both taught by the Holy Spirit throughout the scriptures, and is also, antecedent to discussion, the obvious dictate of piety. Nor from the beginning was there any other method of worshipping God, the only difference being, that this spiritual truth, which with us is naked and simple, was under the former dispensation wrapped up in figures. And this is the meaning of our Saviour's words, "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23). For by these words he meant not to declare that God was not worshipped by the fathers in this spiritual manner, but only to point out a distinction in the external form: that is, that while they had the Spirit shadowed forth by many figures, we have it in simplicity. But it has always been an acknowledged point, that God, who is a Spirit, must be worshipped in spirit and in truth." (pp. 127-128)

True worship is lost without a right understanding of who God is and what his attributes are; of who we are, and how infinitely incapable we are of pleasing God. True worship also is, Calvin notes, impossible unless we approach God as he has commanded. God regulates "all the actions of our lives," Calvin writes. His assertion is that it is quite plain that this is the case - for even upon simple grounds of piety, would it not be patently obvious that God should be worshipped in the way that He commands? Calvin goes on - and in these few paragraphs lays out what I think, again, is a concise and powerful argument for proper worship, regulated by God Himself:

"Moreover, the rule which distinguishes between pure and vitiated worship is of universal application, in order that we may not adopt any device which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have him to approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits, that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke his anger against us.

I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to his worship, if at variance with his command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct, "Obedience is better than sacrifice." "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," (1 Sam. 15:22; Matt. 15:9). Every addition to his word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere "will worship" (ethelothreeskeia) is vanity. This is the decision, and when once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate." (pp. 128-129)

The more I think about this issue, especially in light of reading Calvin's brief treatment in these paragraphs, the more I am amazed at our arrogance in the church, in which we say that we are free to worship God in whatever way pleases us. Is God not owed complete obedience in all things? Is He not right, as Sovereign King, to determine the proper means of serving Him? Today man-centered and man-oriented worship is entirely rampant... and the opinions against which Calvin writes in the above, "that whatever they do [in worship] has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honour of God." (p. 128) I have heard arguments against strictness in worship many times that amount to just this, now 500 years later. "But as long as we love Jesus, it really doesn't matter how we worship him." "They like to dance in worship, and that's good - it shows how much they love God." This is just what Calvin was addressing (though the specifics of corrupted worship were different in his day). God Almighty has declared to us His expectations of us. Shall we not simply obey Him? Where do we think we have the right to dictate terms of our service to our Sovereign?

More later... much to chew on.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

5 Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ as Taught by William Ames

In William Ames's treatment of Lord's Day 23 in his recently re-published work, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, we find an example of yet another early orthodox Reformer speaking clearly for the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active obedience as necessary for our justification. The Catechism questions covered in Lord's Day 23 are:
59. Q. But what does it help you now that you believe all this?
A. In Christ I am righteous before God and heir to life everlasting.[1]
[1] Hab. 2:4; John 3:36; Rom. 1:17; 5:1, 2.

60. Q. How are you righteous before God?
A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.[1] Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God's commandments, have never kept any of them,[2] and am still inclined to all evil,[3] yet God, without any merit of my own,[4] out of mere grace,[5] imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ.[6] He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me,[7] if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.[8]
[1] Rom. 3:21-28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 3:8-11. [2] Rom. 3:9, 10. [3] Rom. 7:23. [4] Deut. 9:6; Ezek. 36:22; Tit. 3:4, 5. [5] Rom. 3:24; Eph. 2:8. [6] Rom. 4:3-5; II Cor. 5:17-19; I John 2:1, 2. [7] Rom. 4:24, 25; II Cor. 5:21. [8] John 3:18; Acts 16:30, 31; Rom. 3:22.

61. Q. Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?
A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God.[1] I can receive this righteousness and make it mine my own by faith only.[2]
[1] I Cor. 1:30, 31; 2:2. [2] Rom. 10:10; I John 5:10-12.
In his treatment of this Lord's Day, Ames expounds the doctrine of justification from the text Romans 3:24-25: "So that they who are justified by grace, that is, by His grace, through the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, whom God offered as a means of appeasement by faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His own justice."

In lesson 3, Ames treats of the doctrine as stated, The obedience of Jesus Christ imputed to us constitutes us righteous and is the foundation of our justification. In this part of his exposition, Ames is focusing on the final portion of verse 25: "as a demonstration of His own justice." Ames's contention is strongly put - there is no justice without the imputation of Christ's full righteousness to His people - both His passive payment of the penalty of sin, and His active obedience, imputed to His people for the righteounsness that God requires. Ames writes:
"It is deduced from the text 'through the redemption accomplished.' For (1) whoever is justified through redemption by another, the free value of the latter is imputed towards the free redemption of the former." (p. 119, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
That is, if one looks at the Old Testament teachings concerning redemption, the full price of redemption was exchanged for the redeemed. That is, whatever was required for the redemption of whatever or whomever was being redeemed, was paid and accounted in its full value unto that which or whom was redeemed. Complete righteousness under the Law is required for acceptance by God… this is impossible for those bearing Adam's sinfulness (i.e. all of us) and their own sins. Christ's full value, His complete virtue must be accounted to believers for them to be rendered acceptable before God. He continues:
"(2) If Christ is the appeasement for our justification, then we are pleasing to God. As it is said in the text, then we are pleasing to God on account of whatever has been offered by Christ toward our good.

(3) If faith justifies to the degree that it regards Christ and His blood, then whatever is in the blood of Christ or in His obedience all the way through to the death, we are justified by His virtue.

Moreover, the obedience of Christ with respect to our justification has the following reasons, (1) It has the means of a meritorious or effecting cause, because the means was what the justice of God was demanding be furnished to Him, before grace could justify us; and (2) it has the means of a formal cause, to the extent that it is thus accepted on our behalf, as though we look to be clothed in that obedience by God, while He carries out the sentence of our justification. From these phrases there is in that obedience the fact of not having my own righteousness, but that which is Christ's (Phil. 3:9)" (p. 119, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
One thing that cannot be denied is that whatever God requires has been granted the elect in Christ - if perfect righteousness before the Law, then that is what we who are in Him have. That perfect righteousness includes the fullness of Christ's obedience. To parcel out the passive submission to the penalty of death as though that were all that was necessary for us and for our justification is to miss a critical factor, as Ames next points out with a memorable and edifying set of reasons:
" This was especially suitable to God's justice and to His mercy together. For if our justification had been in the bare remission of sins without the imputation of justice, then only the mercy and grace of God would have a place in this business; there would be no means considered for divine justice to make satisfaction for it." (p. 119, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
Yet the end of Romans 3:25 requires that justice be served. Divine justice requires the full righteousness of complete adherence to the Law - not simply payment of any penalties due. Without imputation of Christ's active obedience, we are left without that which justice requires, and God's act of justification of sinners would be without this important component. Mercy, yes - grace, yes - but not justice. Ames continues:
"If we were to be pronounced righteous apart from any imputation of justice, then there would be no foundation for the conclusion that, of course, that person might be pronounced righteous who has no righteousness, either inherent or imputed." (p. 119, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
Here's the kicker, and the reason the denial of the active obedience of Christ is such a damning error. There is no way possible for a person to be declared righteous - that is, to be justified - apart from it! No justice, no peace. No way for salvation, for God cannot deny Himself. Thanks be to God, as Gresham Machen noted, for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it. (for a fantastic biography of Machen, see Defending the Faith by D. G. Hart)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

0 The Marrow of Modern Divinity

As a summer exercise, I'm planning to read through The Marrow of Modern Divinity, a work that was not without its controversy in its day, but which is still praised by many as a classic text on covenant theology. I would suggest it for anyone who'd like a solid introduction to the concepts of covenant theology. It is written in something that's reminiscent of Pilgrim's Progress, that is, it takes the form of a dialog among several characters - Nomista, a legalist, Antinomista, you guessed it - an antinomian, Neophytus, a new Christian, and finally Evangelista - the pastor. Through their dialog, the author (Edward Fisher? This is somewhat disputed as the identity of this Edward Fisher isn't necessarily on very solid ground) exposits the covenant of works and the covenant of grace in a lively and edifying manner. Extremely helpful, too, are the extensive notes of Thomas Boston, which serve to expand upon and explain the dialog to the reader.

I'm very much looking forward to reading this wonderful work and will post notes here as I do. For those interested in the subject of the Marrow and its controversy, please see these audio files from Sinclair Ferguson, and a very recent video lecture by Bill VanDoodewaard, which are extremely edifying.

0 The Lord's Plenteous Redemption

Fellow follower of Christ: let not your heart be troubled if ever the slightest difficulty arises in your life. Recall the words of Psalm 130, which broke upon my heart this morning with fresh dispersals of God's grace to me.

1 Out of c the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
d Let your ears be attentive
to e the voice of my pleas for mercy!

3 If you, O Lord, should f mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could g stand?
4 But with you there is h forgiveness,
i that you may be feared.

5 I j wait for the Lord, k my soul waits,
and l in his word I hope;
6 my soul m waits for the Lord
more than n watchmen for o the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

7 O Israel, p hope in the Lord!
For q with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will r redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

(Psalm 130, ESV)

If ever you are challenged, rest your heart here. If ever you fail at something, take shelter in these words. The Lord indeed is good.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

0 Comprehensive Armor Required

When we survey the world around us and all the temptations to sin that it offers, I fear we frequently err on the side of complacency and false confidence that "we can handle it". After all, we're AmeriCANs, not AmeriCAN'Ts. This is folly, as William Gurnall plainly shows in the next section of The Christian in Complete Armor. Speaking of the necessity of the Christian's being outfitted with the WHOLE armor of God, as his text says, Ephesians 6:11, Gurnall argues that the reason we must be outfitted with the WHOLE armor of God is that the enemy's attack on the church is complete: Global Thermonuclear War. Every weakness that we have, the enemy aims for - so we must prepare ourselves with God's armor - which is complete.

Hence, Gurnall writes:
"He must be armed in every part cap-a-pie, soul and body, the powers of the one, and the sense of the other, not any part left naked. A dart may fly in at a little hole, like that which brought a message of death to Ahab, through the joints of his harness, and Satan is such an archer as can shoot at a penny breadth. If all the man be armed, and only the eye left without, Satan can soon shoot his fire-balls of lust in at that loophole, which shall set the whole house on fire. Eve looked but on the tree, and a poisonous dart struck her to the heart. If the eye be shut, and the ear be open to corrupt communication, Satan will soon wriggle in at this hole. If all the outward senses of a man be guarded, he will soon by his own thoughts be betrayed into Satan's hands. Our enemies are on every side, and so must our armour be, 'on the right hand and on the left,' (2 Cor. vi. 7)" (p. 58, The Christian in Complete Armor)
The comprehensive nature of the enemy's attack is well known to anyone who desires to live godly in this world of sin. Try as you might on your own, you only have 20 fingers and toes to stop up the holes in the dike. The only recourse is God's armor, which is prescribed in Ephesians 6, and which Gurnall explores in great detail in this, his masterwork.

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